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Elliot Leven

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter



By Elliot Leven, March 16, 2011

Editor's note:

This article below by Elliot Leven discusses the recent lawsuit filed against Jimmy Carter. For background information on former President  being sued for violating consumer protection laws by knowingly publishing inaccurate information while promoting a book as factual read


Jimmy Carter really dislikes the West Bank settlements, but he is no enemy of Israel’s.  His book - Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid - has a sensationalist title, but on balance is pretty moderate. A new class-action lawsuit against Carter and the book’s publisher is, on its face, completely unreasonable.

Readers will recall that former American President Jimmy Carter was the man who brought Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat together at Camp David in 1979 to sign the Camp David Accords, which created peace between Israel and Egypt.  After his retirement from politics, Carter founded the Carter Center – a non-profit organization that promotes democracy around the world. He has visited the Middle East and commented upon Middle Eastern affairs.

In 2006, he published a book called Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.  The short book (only about 250 pages in paperback) summarizes Carter’s personal trips to the Middle East before, during and after his presidency, and comments briefly upon his meetings with major Middle Eastern leaders. The author tells some personal anecdotes and comments upon the Middle Eastern peace process.

To cut to the chase, Carter is a big fan of the 2003 Geneva Initiative (or Geneva Accord as it’s sometimes called).  This is a comprehensive Israel-Palestine peace treaty negotiated by high-profile private citizens from both parties (including Israel’s Yossi Beilin and Palestine’s Yasser Abed Rabbo). Of course, it has no legal status, but it was highly praised by many international leaders, including Carter.

The Geneva Initiative provides for a two-state solution, and allows Israel to keep most of the major West Bank settlements and the Jewish suburbs of Jerusalem (34 settlements in all, counting the Jerusalem neighborhoods and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City).  Israel would have to evacuate most of the smaller settlements.  Israel would give up some slivers of land from Israel proper to compensate for the slivers of the West Bank that would be annexed to Israel.  Israel would have the option of allowing some Palestinian refugees to return to Israel proper, but would not be obligated to do so.  There would be special arrangements for Jerusalem, including Palestinian control of the Dome of the Rock area. 

It is easy to argue that no piece of paper can guarantee that a future Palestinian state would be genuinely peaceful. However, the Geneva Initiative is as good a draft peace treaty as any.  Supporters of the Initiative, like Jimmy Carter, are certainly not enemies of Israel.

Most of Carter’s general opinions about the Middle East are fairly mainstream.  He argues that compromise “is necessary from both sides, with clear distinctions made between what their dreams and ideology dictate and what is pragmatically possible.”

Carter is human and his opinions are sometimes subjective.  He established a very warm personal friendship with former Israeli President Ezer Weizman (Israel’s Foreign Minister at Camp David in 1979).  He also had great respect for the late Anwar Sadat and the late Yitzhak Rabin.  He admires the Israeli people in general and calls them “indomitable”.

The title of the book is sensationalist.  Some enemies of Israel, including some who do not recognize its right to exist at all, accuse Israel of being an apartheid state, using the comparison with apartheid-era South Africa as a rhetorical tool. 

When you go behind the title and actually read the book, it is clear that Carter does not consider Israel to be identical to South Africa.  At the end of the book he outlines the future options facing Israel.  The first option is annexation of the West Bank and Gaza (which would give Israel a non-Jewish majority).  The second is “a system of apartheid, with two peoples occupying the same land but completely separated from each other…”  A final option is Israeli withdrawal from the territories. The Geneva Initiative is one version of this option.

In short, Carter does not consider Israel to be an apartheid state, but is worried that it might choose some sort of apartheid option in the future.  Many progressive Israelis share that concern.  Expressing it hardly makes one anti-Israel.

All of which brings us to the lawsuit, filed in a New York court by four readers who bought Carter’s book and consider it to be “filled with demonstrable falsehoods, omissions and knowing misrepresentations intended to promote Carter’s agenda of anti-Israel propaganda, rather than a true and accurate picture of all matters and events in the book.”

The plaintiffs bring the suit as a class action on behalf of all those who bought the book.  They rely on New York’s General Business Law which makes it unlawful to engage in deceptive acts in the conduct of business, trade or commerce, and allows victims of such deception to file lawsuits.

In their Class Action Complaint, filed on February 1, 2011, the plaintiffs give several examples of how the book is allegedly deceptive.  They make a big fuss over the wording of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which calls on Israel to withdraw from “territories” occupied in the 1967 war.  Many commentators have pointed out that the resolution does not use the words “the territories”.  The implication is that it might be alright for Israel to withdraw from some, but not all, territories. 

The plaintiffs point out that Carter equates Resolution 242 with Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders.  The plaintiffs argue that Carter is being deceptive, because Resolution 242 leaves open the possibility that Israel might not have to withdraw precisely to the 1967 border. 

The plaintiffs are correct that Carter does not always write with the precision of a lawyer.  However, the plaintiffs are missing the big picture.  Carter clearly has no problem with the concept that Israel might keep some slices of the West Bank, as part of some kind of negotiated agreement, perhaps along the lines of the Geneva Initiative.

The plaintiffs also fault Carter for going too easy on Yasser Arafat.  In a general sense, there is some merit to this observation.  The book devotes very little ink towards describing terrorist acts organized or supported by Arafat. It says not a word about how Arafat’s corruption and how he stole large sums of money sent by generous donor nations to benefit the Palestinian people.  To be fair to Carter, it is a short book, and it does not purport be a comprehensive history of recent Middle Eastern events.

Some of the plaintiffs’ arguments appear technically accurate on their face.  For example, Carter is very critical of West Bank settlements, and mentions in passing that they consume much more water than Palestinian communities on the West Bank.  The plaintiffs admit that there is a large difference in water consumption, but argue that Carter overstated the difference.  Even if that is technically true, it again misses the big picture. What’s going on in the West Bank is unjust, and Israel can and should do much better.  Stating that obvious truth does not make one anti-Israel.

I am no expert in New York consumer law. I have no idea what will happen to the lawsuit.  The publisher has responded by branding the lawsuit “frivolous” and “without merit”.  I suspect the lawsuit will give a big boost to sales of the book. 

In the end, readers rather than courts should determine the fate of the book.  It is hardly a masterpiece. The Middle Eastern conflict is extremely complex, and Carter’s short book is not a good introduction to the subject for novices.  However, for those readers who already know a fair amount about the conflict, Carter’s book makes for interesting reading.  It deserves a small place in any library of books about Israel, Palestine and the modern Middle East.

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